Monday, January 31, 2011

Thought for the Week: Becoming Fire

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, "Abba, as far as I can I say my little office. I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can. I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?" Then the old Abba Joseph stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you so choose, you can become all flame."
I work in a pretty conservative church. Each Sunday, I show up, play some outdated worship music that is so theologically oversimplified that I have to grit my teeth to belch out the full song, and then listen to folks complain about how it's not as good as those old-timey hymns. They talk a lot about "winning  souls" for Jesus, and how people are transformed not by our doing, but by the blood of Christ alone.

I work in the kind of church that often talks about fire. 

If you don't evangelize people, truly turn them to Jesus, then you will be cast into a fiery hell which burns forever. Also, you are supposed to be on fire for God. Talk about mixing metaphors.

It seems like fire has been so overused as an image in Christian theology that it has become cliche, its meaning almost lost. We Christian folk have become quite fond of using the phrase "on fire for God" every time we see a passionate speaker, or someone with powerful ambition (this latter example is perhaps the most common--and most dangerous--use of the phrase). I was first introduced to the true power of the fire metaphor in mewithoutYou's brilliant elegy, "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate," which was inspired by a Sufi bedtime story told to the band's lead singer when he was a child. 

Not long after that, I became engrossed in the teachings of the Desert Fathers, and soon stumbled upon this week's thought, courtesy of Abba Lot and Abba Joseph. You've read their mysterious anecdote. Now listen to the song below:

Fire is not a threat to be brandished for wrongdoing. Fire is not (or at least, should not be) a glossy label for someone driven by ego and desire for power.

We do not consume the fire. We allow the fire to consume us. To transform us into something mysterious and unknowable--broken of our own will, we become one with the fire. And that fire is God.

Why not be utterly changed into fire?

1 comment:

  1. This is great - I often find myself wondering why people of our "civilized" culture find it so utterly difficult (often impossible and mostly undesirable) to give ourselves over to something - to willingly be altered forever by something that matters. For me, this is where true love, freedom and beauty live. Thanks for encouraging the dialogue and inspiring action!